I am convinced that the main goal of teacher training each summer is to remind those of us who do not have to sit in a student desk each day just how hard it is to sit in a student desk all day.
One of the things which has always fascinated me about professional development days is where we hold our meetings. Sometimes we sit in classrooms in those small desks that were made for people much smaller than the adults that fill the room. Other times we sit at the cafeteria tables of our school – you remember those tables, don’t you? Those little, round pedestals with the seats that squeak every time you move – the seats that have no backs on them so you can never lean any way except forwards for fear you might slide off. By the end of the six hours I have very little that feels professionally developed, except parts of my body that have been professionally developed into unnatural positions, and honestly, all I want to do at the end of those days is find a place to “unkink” all my kinks. Have I learned anything? Only to remind myself to bring a pillow next time or to call in sick. But, don’t think that I don’t think the developers of these days are clever; they are more than clever. In fact, I believe this is all what I like to think of as their master plan. There is a reason behind the hours of torturous seating…the true genius of the plan is it is now emblazed across our minds just how amazingly hard it is to sit still all day. Thus, through the genius of professional development, our students are saved.
How’s that, you ask? Well, research has shown over and over that the attention span you have with your students is about (give or take) one minute for the children’s age. So, as a typical middle school teacher, I have about 12 to 13 minutes of my students’ undivided attention before I start losing them. That, compiled with the already uncomfortable seats they are forced to endure all day, makes any master teacher know that after a certain point in the lesson, a good teacher will let the students do one important thing: move. And, once I move them, I once again gain 12 to 13 more minutes of their undivided attention. It’s an amazing cycle, really.
Now, I realize all transition in learning do not have to involve moving. A teacher can simply create a transition of activities and still maintain the children’s attention, but I maintain that for the health and well-being of those students who are trapped in those torture chambers of flawed ergonomic design…we teachers, as caring individuals, must let the masses move.
Need some ideas for allowing movement in any lesson? Try some of these ideas:
• Take an exercise break. Give your students a minute to stand up and stretch or do jumping jacks. The one minute of movement will be a definite payback in the time you’ll gain on their attention spans.
• Divide the students into small groups to continue the learning standard.
• Allow students to take a clipboard and work sitting somewhere else in the room instead of at a student desk.
• Take an in-house field trip. (We once quietly walked the school looking for and writing down all the nouns we could see. I know a math teacher who placed math problems up and down the halls for her students to find and solve.)
• Have your students answer using motions. For example, stand up if the answer to a question is false.
• Allow individual students to stand up when called upon to read.
The goal of each class is to learn. Great teachers do whatever it takes to see that learning takes place. If you are hesitant to make transitions of movement in the classroom, don’t be. You just might find that by allowing your children the freedom to move, you will have something else exciting happening in your classroom: you will open your students’ minds to the joy of learning instead of the pain of “deseat.”
Susan Mackey Collins is a veteran teacher who has taught at both the elementary and middle school level. She currently teaches 6, 7, and 8th grade Advanced Language Arts at Sycamore Middle School outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
She has authored many books for Teacher Created Resources including Cursive Writing Activities, the Discovering Genres Series, and many of the titles from our popular Mastering Skills Series.